Unsung


Art is, perhaps, one of the most expensive things I’ve ever done. And yet the process from setting pen or pencil to paper and producing something coherent seems effortless, flawless, quick, and easy. We make it easy, because we’ve had years of training. Patient family, if exasperated, and careful teachers, studious research, and years upon years of not-so-easy toil, practicing, grinding, suffering to be able to draw out leviathan from the page — all this goes into producing something so simple as a line drawing like so:

Terrestrisuchus gracilis silhouette

(Note: As it says on the sidebar to the right, this illustration is covered by a CC-BY license.)


Now, this was originally done as part of a skeletal reconstruction:

Terrestrisuchus gracilis skeleton

(Note: As it says on the sidebar to the right, this illustration is covered by a CC-BY license.)

The extremely long-legged Triassic crocodylomorphan Terrestrisuchus gracilis here was produced after a lot of additional research before I put pencil to paper to draw the bones. The outline is one of the last things done. The drawing looks almost exactly like this without the graying and the black.

At some point down the road I decided that my skeletals, at the time largely unique for the style, were free to use. Free, but not without responsibility. I offered them up as openly available, but still required citation. I wanted people to see, and to use them, without having to pay me. It would be later that I settled on using CC-BY for all my skeletal illustrations, but prior to this I have never wavered: my skeletals are free to use, even to modify, so long as I am cited.

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use. [from CC-BY license.]

This offering came at a cost. I am struggling. I am not financially well off, and am trying to make ends meet with my art. It becomes a problem when, after I’ve make some public requests for assistance, my art appears in publications without reference to me, the artist. This problem is not limited to me; it affects a great number of artists, even in the field of paleontology. But despite this, I knew that my art should be shared, and that I can give this up without pain so long as my name appears somewhere as the source of the image.

So color me shocked when, in a new paper by Lindsay Zanno and colleagues appears in Science’s new ejournal Scientific Reports on a large-bodied basal crocodylomorphan from the Triassic Pekin Formation of North Carolina, uses the above illustration.

Zanno&_-F2-screencap

Screen capture of part of Fig. 2 in Zanno et al. (2015). Portion captures the near-center right side of the illustration limited to position of a sphenosuchian. Illustration is a blacked-out silhouette of the Terrestrisuchus gracilis skeletal seen above.

Mind you, it was modified: no previous version existed in silhouette form until now. A quick check on my hard drive and at Phylopic confirms this. I’ve been lazy in rendering illustrations to silhouette form, but it’s not really excusable: there are actually hundreds of illustrations at Phylopic that are free to use, requiring various forms of CC licensing to be adhered to. CC-BY is not an onerous burden on the author, merely requiring that the originating author’s name follow the illustration wherever it goes. It’s fairly simple.

I am not bringing this up because I somehow want credit. I am bringing this up because it’s a problem, even in paleoart, even in scientific illustration, that oftentimes too many of us are simply sidelined or our work forgotten. How do we even get access to authors who want to pay for our work, if they can just take from us? How do interested parties, wanting that style, find the artist — potentially earning us a contract? It is frustrating, because as an aspiring researcher desiring accreditation, I want the same level of respect that is offered to a cited work under review, and I strive to provide similar credit where possible. It is frustrating, because these are my potential, future peerage who are pulling the credit rug out from beneath me. Even writing this makes me feel red-faced, that I might say the wrong thing.

But I’m saying it. Give us the respect you give at least to the authors whom you cite, even in disagreement, so that we may, actually, be more visible. People like Mike Keesey, who started Phylopic, and others like Drs. Matt Wedel, Mark Witton, Andy Farke, and many many more, are striving to push aside the cloak that concealed many artists struggling in the shadows to get the small, tiny effort expended where their effort isn’t forgotten, obscured, hidden, or taken. I make no such claims to the latter in this post: I do not ascribe to malice here, but merely oversight.

Please, the merest respect our work deserves is that you credit us.

Zanno, L. E., Drymala, S., Nesbitt, S. J. & Schneider, V. P. 2015. Early crocodylomorph increases top tier predator diversity during rise of dinosaurs. Scientific Reports 5 (9276): 1-6.

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8 Responses to Unsung

  1. Jaime, I’m glad to see people value your work. I’m sorry you were not notified or cited. Yes, it’s a ‘mishandling’, but it’s also used in education, so if might be considered that under the Fair Usage rules. They’re not putting it on soup cans and breakfast cereal. Then you’d have something for the lawyers to chew on. I found a silhouette of my Pteranodon (ventral view flying) on a Jurassic Park logo and I just consider it an honor.

    Your work is a valuable contribution to the science, but may I suggest you do what I’ve done and make your art a hobby, separate from your job? The days of books and calendars are over, at least for me. Fun while it lasted. Hang in there.

    • Dave, you considered it an honour that a commercial entity used your work without permission, nor attribution? Presumably they’re ideally positioned to support members of the art community, ensuring that they can continue to produce the art they so obviously value. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be excited if the JP crowd showed an interest in my work, but even though I’m stuck in the hobbyist rut, I still wouldn’t mind a few quid for my efforts. As I often say, it prevents me having to eat my children.

    • CC-BY is the fair use clause. It takes almost no effort to find and note the name of the author of the illustration, especially in a field as SMALL as paleontology. Much effort goes to researching these papers at times; more effort can go into establishing that the illustrations are properly sourced. Other journals do this, but the tabloids sadly have had issues with this. This is not the first time this has happened with respect to the silhouettes, either. Even to think that using the fair use doctrine as an escape clause to avoid citing the author of one’s illustrations is to justify larceny. I am not making that claim here; I just think it’s a little lazy, and the publishing process makes no effort to enforce this. CC-BY may not be enforceable in the respect of most laws, as in it’s not an actual copyright protection provided for free (since I lack the income to copyright with enforceable punishment of infringement).

    • Andy Farke says:

      That which is legal under Fair Use is not necessarily the same as ethical, or even good practice. Based on the numerous examples I’ve seen in the literature and in conference talks, I suspect misuses or non-attribution of CC-BY artwork in scientific contexts typically results from poor awareness rather than malicious intent. This post (and posts by folks like Glendon Mellow) are part of the solution, but unfortunately not everyone follows the blogosphere. Time to get the word out.

  2. Scott Potter says:

    Very well put, Jaime. And I agree with Andy, fair use =/= ethical action. I am truly glad more artists are being outspoken about this topic.

    On a more personal note, this is a problem I have found difficult to reconcile with my YouTube show Thagomizers. I am on a non-existent budget so paying artists for their work is not within reach right now. Getting in contact with many of the artists I talk about/use for examples has occasionally become very difficult so asking for permission first has been a logistical nightmare. This is why I decided to utilize the onscreen credit in my latest video (and future ones), put credits in the video description, add artist names to the end credits to every episode and make it clear if an artist wants their work removed from a video I would certainly do it.

    • Throw credit at your viewers. More than enough artists will appreciate it, even if many may have wished for compensation. Some work presented through papers, books, etc., falls under the “fair use” but at that point it’s a very, very good idea to grant credit regardless. Making ti clear who produced what, even if it’s derivative, allows you to escape the trap AMNH fell into when they commissioned Raul Martin, who copied several of his pieces from Mark Witton. They’ll recognize your intent. The line gets drawn at commercialization. When a person can be deprived of potential income, or someone can be provided income as a direct consequence of a use of work they do not have rights to, this is where the problem arises.

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